Los Angeles Galaxy v Sporting Kansas City

MLS playoff focus: Notes on Sporting KC ahead of Saturday’s first leg against Houston

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Ahead of Saturday’s first leg of this Eastern Conference finals series, here are the must-knows about Peter Vermes’ Sporting Kansas City. A trip to MLS Cup 2013 is on the line. (Saturday’s match kicks off at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, and can also been seen on NBC Sports Live Extra)

  • Aurelien Collin destined to score in the series?

As a center back, Aurelien Collin’s main mission is to make life miserable for opposition attackers. And he’s pretty good at it. Not just because Sporting had the league’s best defensive record this year (30 goals allowed in 34 games), but because he’s a real stinker at getting under his opponent’s skin.

Meanwhile, goals are a bonus for defenders – even if it doesn’t look that way lately for Sporting Kansas City’s French antagonist. Heck, it almost seems like he’s destined to score in this two-game series.

Collin (pictured) scored his team’s lone goal earlier this year as SKC snapped the Dynamo’s record 36-game home unbeaten streak in all competitions. Sporting was the first team to win in Houston since June of 2011, so that was a big strike for the irascible SKC veteran.

Collin has also scored twice in the 2013 playoffs, once in each of the club’s two matches in the just-completed home-and-away series against New England. His 69th-minute goal at the far post last weekend outside of Boston was nothing short of massive, even if SKC lost that night. It allowed his club to return to Sporting Park with a one-goal deficit, physhologically so much better than a two-goal margin to make up.

Collin opened the scoring just before halftime of Wednesday’s return leg.

(MORE: PST match preview, Sporting KC at Houston)

  • Yellow card warning for SKC

Three-fourths of Sporting Kansas City’s back line is on yellow card warning and would miss the return leg with a booking Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium. That’s hardly a surprise considering notoriously physical KC led the league in fouls and bookings this year. Still, this is surely a concern and could certainly influence Saturday’s contest at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Right back Chance Myers, left back Seth Sinovic, center back Aurelien Collin and forward Teal Bunbury all collected one caution in the two-game set against New England.

Two yellow cards in the playoffs means the offender sits out the following match. By MLS rules, however, if a player collects his second post-season booking in the second-leg of the conference finals, he will not miss the MLS Cup final.

  • Claudio Bieler? No problems here!

The curious case of Argentine forward Claudio Bieler gets more strange by the day.

He didn’t even travel last week for Sporting Kansas City’s road match to open the playoffs, at New England. That’s a pretty significant development for a Designated Player. So it fueled speculation that Bieler had found a spot in Vermes’ doghouse, perhaps for returning from recent injury out of shape.

Or, it could have just been that Bieler didn’t score enough after a hot start in his first year at Sporting Park, and that management was trying to run him off. Before Wednesday’s overtime strike, Bieler had not scored since Sept. 7 (and that was on a penalty kick). Dom Dwyer and Bunbury have gotten Bieler’s minutes since then.

Bieler didn’t start in Wednesday’s return leg – but did get in the game off the bench and help decide the series with a late goal. So, is there a problem? Manager Peter Vermes was asked about it Friday in a national teleconference.

He said there was no problem. Everything was fine.

Nothing to see here, folks. So just move along.

(MORE: What we learned from Sporting Kansas City’s win over New England)

Watch Live: Watford vs. Everton (Lineups, Stream)

during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Everton at Vicarage Road on April 9, 2016 in Watford, England.
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Watford host Everton on Saturday at Vicarage Road (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in a battle between two teams hoping to get back on track.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Both clubs will be eager to turn around their recent form which has seen Walter Mazzarri‘s Watford lose three of their last four Premier League games, while Everton has just one win in their last nine games in the Premier League under Ronald Koeman.

In team news Watford start Britos and Behrami as they return to the team, while Janmaat is back in the squad. Everton start Kevin Mirallas and Gerard Deulofeu out wide and Ramiro Funes Mori in central defense as Ross Barkley and Phil Jagielka drop to the bench.

LINEUPS

Watford: Gomes; Zuniga, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Guedioura, Behrami, Capoue; Amrabat, Okaka, Deeney. Subs: Pantilimon, Kabasele, Janmaat, Watson, Success, Sinclair, Ighalo

Everton: Stekelenburg; Coleman, Williams, Funes Mori, Baines; Barry, Gueye, McCarthy; Mirallas, Lukaku, Deulofeu. Subs: Joel, Holgate, Jagielka, Cleverley, Barkley, Lennon, Valencia

Altidore earns U.S. Male Player of the Year honors, Pulisic wins Young POY

Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore (17) reacts after scoring against the Montreal Impact during the first half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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While Jozy Altidore and his Toronto FC side have the chance to take home MLS Cup on Saturday night, the U.S. Men’s National Team forward earned an award of his own in the build up.

[ MORE: MLS commissioner Garber addresses expansion and more ]

On Friday night, U.S. Soccer named Altidore the federation’s Male Player of the Year for 2016, while Borussia Dortmund attacker Christian Pulisic has won Male Young Player of the Year honors.

Altidore takes home Male POY honors for the second time in his career after first winning the award back in 2013.

Altidore narrowly won POY honors with 32 percent of the vote, beating out Bobby Wood (30 percent) and Geoff Cameron (15 percent).

“This is truly an honor to receive this award. It’s also very humbling when you look at such a talented group of teammates nominated for this accolade along with you,” Altidore said. “At the end of the day, any success I have had on the field this year is in large part due to their success and contributions.”

The 27-year-old Altidore scored 10 goals for TFC during the regular season, before adding five goals and four assists for the MLS side ahead of MLS Cup. In his time with the USMNT, Altidore has netted six goals and two assists in 2016, leading all players.

Pulisic found the net three times this year for the USMNT, while excelling in the Bundesliga with Dortmund. The 18-year-old has made 15 appearances in all competitions this season for the German giants and scored two goals for Thomas Tuchel’s squad.

Russian official Mutko seeks to retain FIFA Council seat

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 21: Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Vitaly Mutko attends at 'Vecherniy (Evening) Urgant' TV show on Channel 1 during FIFA 2018 World Cup Russia Official Mascot final choice event at Ostankino on October 21, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
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NYON, Switzerland (AP) Under fire for his role in Russia’s state doping program, Vitaly Mutko has begun the process of a FIFA integrity check to be an election candidate.

[ MORE: Can Spurs overcome their historic results form at Old Trafford? ]

Mutko, who heads Russian operations to organize the 2018 World Cup, has been elected by European soccer leaders since 2009 to represent them on FIFA’s ruling committee.

[ MORE: Man City visits Leicester with two sides on opposite ends of table ]

His FIFA seat is due for re-election in April, though potential candidates must pass a vetting and eligibility check by a review panel appointed by the world soccer body.

On Friday, Mutko was implicated in widespread evidence detailed by Canadian investigator Richard McLaren that he oversaw a state-backed doping program as sports minister.

Hours later, UEFA said Mutko was among five applicants for four vacant seats on the FIFA Council. The April 5 vote is by 55 European member federations.

Mutko has retained his FIFA positions and presidency of the Russian soccer federation since McLaren’s interim report was published in July.

The World Anti-Doping Agency then called on the FIFA ethics committee to investigate Mutko based on McLaren’s evidence.

The full investigation report release on Friday seemed to confirm that Mutko was asked to cover up a positive doping test by a Russian Premier League player from Uzbekistan.

Mutko was also implicated as sports minister in overseeing widespread doping programs of Russian athletes who competes at the 2012 London Olympics, 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, and the 2013 track and field world championships, held in Moscow.

It is unclear if FIFA’s ethics committee has a mandate to prosecute non-soccer cases.

Asked on Friday if UEFA could launch its own investigation of Mutko, leaders of the European body deferred to FIFA’s ongoing vetting process.

“We have written to FIFA with the five potential candidates and the procedure is FIFA has to go through this eligibility check,” UEFA legal director Alasdair Bell said.

Bell acknowledged that the McLaren report “appears to contain some serious allegations” though noted that “these are contested.”

Three of Mutko’s long-standing colleagues are standing down from their FIFA Council seats from Europe: Michel D’Hooghe of Belgium, Senes Erzik of Turkey, and Marios Lefkaritis of Cyprus.

UEFA said the other election contenders are: Sandor Csanyi, a current UEFA executive committee member from Hungary; Geir Thorsteinsson, president of Iceland’s soccer federation; former AC Milan player Dejan Savicevic of Montenegro; and Costakis Koutsokoumnis, the Cyprus federation president.

Neymar out, Arda Turan has another chance for Barcelona

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 06:  Arda Turan of Barcelona (R) celebrates with Lucas Digne as he scores their second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Camp Nou on December 6, 2016 in Barcelona, .  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Fresh off scoring a hat trick, Turkey midfielder Arda Turan is hoping for another chance to prove he can play alongside Barcelona’s best.

[ MORE: Man City faces Leicester without Aguero, Fernandinho ]

With Neymar suspended for Saturday’s Spanish league match at Osasuna, Turan is likely to take his spot next to Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in the defending champion’s vaunted attack.

[ MORE: Arsenal looks to continue unbeaten run against Stoke City ]

Turan filled in superbly for Neymar on Tuesday when he scored his first hat trick for Barcelona to lead the team to a 4-0 victory over Borussia Moenchengladbach in the Champions League.

The treble took Turan’s scoring total for the season to eight goals, making him Barcelona’s third-leading scorer behind Messi (20) and Suarez (12).

Even though nobody doubts Neymar is the more talented of the two, the Brazil striker has managed only six goals despite playing 400 minutes more than Turan this season.

Neymar’s suspensions from both the `Gladbach and Osasuna matches were for accumulation of bookings in both competitions.

“Arda is scoring lots of goals. When he plays on the wing he has many skills he can draw on,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. “He can also play in midfield. I am happy for him.”

Turan, however, has proven to be a tough piece for Luis Enrique to fit into Barcelona’s talent-laden puzzle.

As his coach said, Turan has impressed on the left side of the attack. But that spot has Neymar’s name stamped on it, and Turan has struggled when asked to play further back.

While Turan flourishes when given space and the freedom to break down defenses, he looks uncomfortable in Barcelona’s demanding precision passing approach.

His unease with the defensive tasks that playing in midfield entails was clear in last weekend’s match against Real Madrid when Turan went on as a late substitute to help protect a one-goal lead.

Instead, Turan’s foul on Marcelo conceded a dangerous free kick that Luka Modric didn’t waste, placing a cross for Sergio Ramos to head in a 90th-minute equalizer and snatch a 1-1 draw that kept Madrid six points clear at the top of the Spanish table.

Turan took a lot of heat for that foul in the Barcelona sports media, meaning his three goals against `Gladbach couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We haven’t played well recently and haven’t gotten good results,” Turan said. “We tried to get the best possible result and play at our best (against `Gladbach).”

Now 29, Turan developed into one of the league’s top attacking midfielders through four seasons with Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, helping the once second-rate team become one of Europe’s best with league, Copa del Rey and Europa League titles.

But when Barcelona called in 2015, Turan changed clubs despite knowing that he couldn’t play until 2016 because of Barcelona’s FIFA-imposed one-year ban on new players for breaking its transfer rules regarding underage players.

The former Galatasaray standout also joined Barcelona well aware that competition for playing time, never mind a regular starting role, would be fierce with the likes of Messi, Suarez and, above all, Neymar.

After failing to find a spot following his debut midway through last campaign, Turan made a promising start to this season when Neymar was away playing for Brazil.

He scored twice in a Spanish Super Cup victory over Sevilla and notched Barcelona’s first league goal of the season. But once Neymar was back from helping Brazil win the Olympic gold medal, Turan was back on the bench.

[ MORE: Watford, Everton meet with both clubs looking to halt poor form ]

The reserve role clearly didn’t suit him. Only one of his goals this season has come as a substitute, when he sparked a 2-1 comeback at `Gladbach in September.

Unlike this week’s second win over `Gladbach, which came with Barcelona already qualified for the Champions League’s knockout rounds, Barcelona visits Pamplona on Saturday needing to break a run of three straight league draws.

Promoted Osasuna appears to be the optimum rival to end that skid. It is in last place and hasn’t won in seven home matches since its return to the first division.